A Place At The Table


~~ONE~~


"Remember to breathe."

"Easy for you to say. You aren't here," she said into the cell phone that she'd perched on her shoulder as she scanned the scene outside of the airport window. She had seen the plane arrive a moment before, but the passengers hadn't begun to spill out into the Orlando Airport yet. She was trying not to hyperventilate.

This was it. The moment had arrived. She was about to meet her future in-laws for the third time. Their first meeting had been at Lance's and Nicole's wedding, so it was almost appropriate that their third meeting would be for their wedding.

"Honey, my parents love you," the voice on the other end of the line said.

"Josh, your parents don't know me. Other than the three days that I spent in DC with you for Christmas, your parents don't know me at all." She let her thumb spin her engagement ring around her finger a few times. The action had become her new nervous twitch. First she'd fiddled with the ring because she wasn't used to wearing it, then it became a reminder of Josh, then it had turned into obsession when the stress about the wedding had begun.

"They met you at the wedding," he said calmly.

She wondered if he really knew how much she hated the fact that he could be so laid back about all of this. She was bundle of nerves; her hands were literally shaking while he sat back and laughed at it all from the comfort of his hotel room a thousand miles away.

"Hon-ney," she whined. "Why do I have to meet them by myself?"

"You make this sound like torture."

"It is," she said, "What am I going to say to them? Hi, sorry that my dumb fiancée didn't bring me around, but hey, now we're getting married, I hope you have fun at the reception."

She heard him laugh.

"It's not funny."

"Levi, calm down. It's not going to be that hard, really. Besides, Tyler and Heather are going to be there. They won't let you die," Josh said softly to her. "You know that I can't get out of this thing. It's for Wild Orchid. They need me here with them." She heard him stop talking for a moment. "When is Patty getting back into town? She'll keep my parents occupied with all her bar stories."

"It's not fair," she said, "Patty isn't coming into town until tonight. I wondered if she's talked to Justin about coming back for the ceremony."

"I don't think they've talked. He's been in a good mood lately."

"It's not fair. Maybe I should run away to California."

"Don't do that. Twenty four more hours and I'll be on a month-long vacation...what's not fair about that?" Josh said, "It's going to be me, you, and Tahoe for a whole month…Little House on the Beach."

"You're going to be in the studio the moment after we get back from the honeymoon," she said. "Speaking of that. You still haven't told me where we're going."

"It's a surprise honey," he said, "Cuz I love you."

"Keep reminding me of that," she said as passengers began to deplane. "Josh I should go. I think your parents are here."

"Tell them I love them, and I'll see them tomorrow."

"What about me?" she asked.

Leah normally wasn't that selfish about compliments and having Josh tell her that he loved her, but lately, with all the wedding stress she become a little clingy, something she'd swore that she'd never do, but she couldn't help it. The whole wedding ordeal meant that she was going to have to deal with the fact that her parents were dead and that it wouldn't be her father walking her down the isle like she wanted.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"So have you decided who you want to walk you down the isle?" JC asked. They'd been sitting on the couch together after dinner on his second night home after being gone for almost two months and they'd been talking about wedding plans when the subject of the walk down the isle came up.

Leah flipped the Wedding Planner book closed and got up from where she'd been sitting on the couch with him showing him all the plans that she'd already set into motion for their March wedding. "I don't know who I want to do it."

"Have you made even a list or something?" Josh asked, "You can always have Johnny walk you down the isle. Or Mike. Or Loni."

Leah gave him a look. "Your Mike or my Mike?" she asked.

"Either one." There was a pause, "What about your brother? You invited him, didn't you?"

"Can we not talk about this now?"

"Why are you fighting me on this?" he asked, "I know that your family is something that is important to you and I just want you to be comfortable with your choice."

"I'll think about it. I've still got a few months."

"Ok," he said. He pulled her into his lap and held her close. "You aren't mad at me are you?"

"No Josh," she said and kissed him, "Just leave me to do the planning. All you need to do is pick the best man and ushers and get your tux." She kissed his neck. "And show up of course."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I love you Levi," he said, "More that you know."

"I love you too."

"You need one last pep talk or are you going to be ok?" he asked.

"I'll be fine." She sighed. For once in her life it was nice to have someone be overprotective of her. He called her often when he wasn't in town and had a habit of showing up in the middle of the night just to spend five or six hours with her before he'd have to board a plane and fly back to the tour or promotional event.

All of this was new to her. She'd never had anyone care about her that much, or at least it hadn't seemed that anyone had cared about her that much since her parents' death. In the past she'd come off as such a Tom-boy that the guys she'd dated almost expected her to stand up for herself, which she did quite often, but with Josh it was different. Josh treated her like a girl, sometimes going overboard, but she knew that she wouldn't have it any other way.

"Good, I'll be home in less than twenty four hours. Just drop my parents off and go home and relax."

"Are you going to spend tomorrow night at your place or at mine."

"One of these days we're going to have to get a place that's ours."

"I told you that we should save our money. My house is going to be big enough for the three of us until we grow out of it. Plus. I thought you liked living by the ocean."

"I do," he said.

"Well at least I know that you know your answer for the wedding," she said with a laugh.

"Love you Levi," he said.

"I love you too."

She hung up the phone and saw Tyler coming through the crowd towards her. He had his sister on his side and their parents were following them. Leah took a deep breath.

"This is it. Here goes nothing," she mumbled.


"How's she holding up?" Lance called over to JC as soon as he'd shoved his cell phone back into the pocket of his jean jacket.

JC held his breath for a moment and let their conversation sink in a little before answering Lance. How was she? She sounded ok, but that was never a sure fire way to tell how Leah was acting. She was famous for hiding her true feelings from him until the ultimate point of them needing to be revealed. "She's good," He rubbed the back of his neck, "Nervous, but good."

He walked away from the corner of the room where he'd escaped to talk on the phone over to where Lance was standing with the others waiting to film their clips for an upcoming MTV special, which had given JC the break he needed to call home.

While Justin and Joey argued over who was going to get to sit in the front seat on the way back to the hotel, a conversation that happened almost every trip they went on, JC scooted into the small circle of people, placing himself next to Lance. Lance patted him on the back with a comforting touch. "Nicole went through that too," Lance said, "Just keep telling her that everything is ok. I'm sure she'll get over it."

"I don't know LB," JC said scratching his head, "She's freaking out because my family is there."

"How can anyone freak out about having your family around?" Lance asked, "Your parents are the coolest."

"I wish she'd see that."

Lance watched him closely for a moment. "Her parents died, didn't they?"

JC nodded, "She has a brother, but they don't talk. I practically had to force her to send him an invitation."

"You forced her?"

"I just feel bad, ya know. My whole family is going to be there and well her side of the church is going to be sort of empty."

"She's got friends and stuff though," Lance said.

"Yeah, but it's not the same." JC took a breath.

"Have you thought about getting in touch with her brother yourself?"

"I called him a few weeks ago and left him a message, but I haven't heard anything back from him." JC remembered the moment when he'd heard Leah's brother's voice on the answering machine. Part of him wanted to celebrate that he'd dialed the right number and part of him wanted to yell at the guy for practically abandoning his sister. He didn't know the whole story, but he had to side with Leah, or actually, he sided with the vague details that Leah gave him about her relationship with her brother. It seemed that she'd written him off long ago, something that JC himself couldn't understand. His family was his most prized possession, besides Leah of course, and not having any of them around left him with an empty feeling inside.

Lance sighed and twisted his wedding band around his finger again. "Well I hope for her sake that he shows up."

"Yeah, or it's going to be the million relatives that I have and on her side…Patty."

Justin turned his head and a pained expression crossed his face. He immediately stopped arguing with Joey and walked away from the group.

"Great," Joey sighed.

"Thanks JC," Chris said, "Now he's gonna be an asshole the rest of the day."

"Like that's my fault?" JC said angrily. "He's going to see her at the wedding, so there's no point in trying to tip-toe around him like that anyway."

Every time he mentioned the word "wedding" he seemed to get a little more nervous about the big event. The wedding was going to be on Sunday and it was already Thursday, which meant that he was down to less than a hundred hours before he would become a husband. A husband. The mere mention of that word made him even more nervous. He would be responsible for another person now, and although his job gave him one less thing to worry about, he still hoped that he could give Leah everything that she would want from her husband.

"Breathe JC," Lance prompted.

Chris smacked him on the back as he left the group, forcing JC to let out a breath that he didn't know he'd been holding.

"You ok?" Lance asked with a slight laugh.

JC didn't answer right away. He watched Justin for a moment. He had gotten on his cell phone and was chatting away with someone, the scowl still on his face. He decided to leave the guy alone with his conversation and turned back to Lance. "Were you this nervous when you got married?" JC asked.

"You don't remember?" Lance seemed to get a dreamy look in his eyes as if he was remembering fondly the ceremony and events that had taken place about a year before.

"I was sort of going through my own ordeal at the time," JC said speaking of the week when he and Leah had finally made up. He wouldn't have noticed much that week. He just remembered the moment when he'd proposed to Leah and she'd agreed to marry him. To him that moment was the only one worth remembering.

"Oh yeah."

JC looked down and watched Lance twist his wedding ring around his finger. "So?"

"I was nervous. Way nervous," he smiled. "I puked the morning of the wedding."

"That was from the night before," Joey laughed. "You got smashed at the bachelor party. You and Mr. Tequila Bottle got to be good friends."

"Ok, well the puking might have been from that, but before I puked I almost considering calling the whole thing off, but I figured that I loved her and I wanted to be with her. The whole writing it down on paper and the whole ceremony was for everyone else's benefit. I would have run off to Vegas with her if she'd wanted to do that."

"Vegas is sounding good right now," JC said.

"Oh come on man, it's worth it." Lance smiled.

"You really like being married?"

"Nothing has changed between me and Nicole. Although it will soon."

"What are you talking about?"

"Nicole and I are thinking about having some kids."

"Some kids?" Joey joked.

"Yeah." Lance's face turned bright pink. "We figured that if we were going to start a family we might as well start it now."

"Whoa. Daddy Bass. And to think…a few years ago we thought you were going to be a virgin until you died."

"I'm just trying to be a slut like you Joe," Lance said with an evil look. "I can't stand you taking all that attention away from the rest of us."

Joey threw an arm around Lance's shoulder and JC watched the two exchange wrestling moves.

"Guys, we need you in here!" An MTV intern ushered them into the studio for their section of the program, which cut off their conversation, but didn't mute the thoughts that JC was having.


~~TWO~~


"Tahoe?"

Her eyes flew open to survey the darkness in her room when Leah felt the bed move in the middle of the night. She didn't know why she'd woken up so she called out into the room to see if anyone was there. Most nights she'd curl under the blankets and try to hide from whatever scariness was in the dark empty room, but she knew JC was coming home and thought it just might be him.

"Josh?"

She shivered for a moment when the covers were lifted letting cool air hit her warmed skin. She had snuggled into the covers extra hard that night seeing as it had been drizzling earlier in the evening. She thought a storm might be coming in so she'd put an extra blanket on the bed, not knowing what time Josh might get home. His flight had been scheduled to arrive around midnight and she'd offered to come and pick him up, but he'd refused her offer.

He replaced the covers and placed his lips against the sensitive skin on her neck just below her ear and smiled as he snuggled her against him. "Shh…Go back to sleep Levi." His hushed voice echoed in the silent room as Josh slid his arms around her from behind, bringing her back against the warmth of his chest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You've been tired lately Levi," he said, "You need your sleep."

"I've been busy trying to pull the rest this wedding together," she said. "Which reminds me. You need to make sure you go pick up your tuxedo."

"I've got it covered," he said, "I made sure that when Tyler gets his tux that he goes and gets mine too."

She yawned.

"Honey, it's only noon and you're already yawning?" He sounded really concerned about her. It had been true. She had been tired the past few weeks, but nothing out of the ordinary, she thought, considering how much had needed to be done to get the final preparations done for the wedding.

Josh's parents were flying in, Josh was coming home on Friday night/ Saturday morning, the rehearsal dinner was going to be Saturday and the ceremony was going to be on Sunday. Their honeymoon would then follow the ceremony and would last for about a week and a half before they would return to Orlando. Leah had the restaurant and JC had a date with the studio to start their next album.

"What about you?" she asked, "I don't want you driving home from the compound and falling asleep at the wheel."

"I won't," he assured her, "I'll have Wes drive me if it makes you feel better."

"Fine," she sighed not wanting to fight with him about it. She was down to the last few days before she'd become a married woman and she didn't want to ruin any of those precious memories by fighting with him.

"So when I get home you'll be in bed," he said.

"It'll be a movie night for me and Tahoe."

"How's he doing?"

"He misses you."

"I miss him too."

"Oh yeah," she said with a laugh, "I miss you too."

"Thanks Levi."

"I love and miss you too."

"So what are my parents up to?" he asked.

"Well since all the other families are in town for this shin-dog all the mom's went shopping and all the dad's went over to the compound to watch football. Your brother and sister and I "

"Sounds so fifties," JC commented.

"It is," she said, "I thought that they should have all been watching the Dallas Stars' game."

"Levi, you have to give up this obsession with Mike Maddono by the time we get married."

"You have your studio time and I have my hockey games," she smiled.

There was some kind of noise behind him and he sighed.

"Hey, I should go," he said, "I should be out of the studio by four and I'm going to go to the signing thing with the [Wild Orchid] girls before I hop on the eight o'clock out of the city."

"Ok," she said softly, "Tell Wes I miss him."

"I will and I'll wake you up when I get in," he said.

Although she wouldn't mind just waking up in the morning to find him beside her, she liked to know that he was in. Usually when he would come home she'd end up sleeping horribly waiting for him to get there. At least if he woke her up she could go back to sleep knowing that he was home and he was safe.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Hmm," Leah tiredly moaned as she stretched a little as the lingering scent of his after-shave engulfed her. "You shaved." She reached up and behind her to rub his soft exposed cheek as he pressed the other cheek to the side of her neck.

"I didn't get a chance to this morning."

"You went on television looking all gross?" she asked.

"I didn't look gross," he said with a laugh. "You may not like facial hair, but I like my goatee."

"Whatever honey." She turned in his arms. "How long have you been home?"

He instinctively moved to lie on his back so that she could cuddle against him.

"Just long enough to get cleaned up," he explained, "I wore my new pajamas just for you."

"You're wearing boxers."

"I know, sexy, huh?" he said. He wrapped his arms around her and for the first time in the last month she felt completely happy. There was no worrying about the wedding or any of the plans; it was just the two of them.

They lay there in silence for a few moments. She listened to JC's heartbeat, but was distracted by Tahoe pacing around the bed trying to find a place to jump up on the bed. She called him over and he settled into bed with them, choosing to sleep on Josh's unoccupied side. Tahoe lay with his head on Josh's thigh and Josh reached to pat his head before leaving a hand on the dog's head.

"Sing to me Josh," she mumbled as her eyes fought to stay open. She couldn't see anything anyway, but she didn't want to fall asleep just yet for fear that this would all be a dream and that she would wake up alone in the morning.

"What do you want me to sing?" She pictured him laying there in the darkness with his eyes closed and a half smile on his face. She'd seen him sleep like that before and always imagined that look on his face when she couldn't see him. It was images like that, which had helped her through the last few months, especially those weeks when she didn't get to see him.

"I don't know, you pick," she mumbled.

"Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday…" His voice was lazy and drew out the words for an extremely long time.

"Josh?" she said with a half sleepy laugh. She sat up as her eyes adjusted to the darkness in the room. She could make out his silhouette against the light colored sheets.

"Hmm?" he said.

She could feel in the way his arms lay limply against hers and in the way his voice had crackled that he was exhausted. She knew that she should let him sleep. He probably hadn't slept well much in the last few weeks. He'd just gotten home from a long stretch on the road and a long flight down from New York, but she wanted to talk with him despite his sleepy nature and her own tiredness.

"I love you," she said. When he didn't answer she thought for a moment that something was wrong, but found that he'd fallen asleep so she kissed him and curled back up against him hoping that if this was a dream that it would last for a long time.


"For the girl who cooks everything…" Josh cracked an egg and began to beat the egg in the bowl. "I bring you ome-elet--eggs, milk and stu-uff."

He'd woken up early that morning to find Leah pressed against him. He thought about waking her up, but seeing as she hadn't been sleeping well in the last few days he decided against it, choosing to let her sleep while he made her breakfast in bed. He wasn't the biggest fan of cooking, but seeing that he'd eaten take out the last two weeks in a row, it was nice to reach into the refrigerator and find something to eat that wasn't cooked in a vat of oil or on some assembly line. Besides, when else could he just hang around in his boxer shorts without fear that some hotel person would walk in on him or the other guys would try to pants him.

He heard a giggle behind him and turned to find Leah standing in the doorway wearing her robe. She was a site. Her face still held the crease lines from her pillow and her cheeks were pink with sleep. She squinted at him with a smile on her face.

"What? Don't like my singing?"

"You're the professional, but I guess all that studio work gets the kinks out," she said rubbing her eyes. She stepped into the kitchen and leaned against the counter next to him.

"Good one," he said.

"What'cha makin'?" she asked. She came up behind him as he turned to pour the eggs into the frying pan. She kissed his bare shoulder and slid her arms around him holding him close as he reached to get the spatula.

"Omelet."

"Still haven't gotten around to those cooking lessons?" she asked.

"I've been busy," he said, "Maybe I'll get around to it sometime."

"If it weren't for me and the friendly people at McDonalds you'd starve."

"There's always my mother's food too," he said, "Speaking of her…she called a while ago and wants to have lunch with us before we head over to the rehearsal."

Leah scratched her head. "I didn't even hear the phone ring."

"I turned the ringer off," he said, "I thought you'd like to sleep in."

"What time is it?" she asked.

"Just after ten," he said looking at his watch, "I told her we'd come over and get them around noon."

"I'm gonna go take a shower."

"You don't want omelet?"

"Right now it's just egg," she said.

"Well I'm not finished," he said. He sidestepped towards the refrigerator and pulled out the stuff that he'd chopped for the omelet.

"Wow," she said, "Have you been practicing this?"

"Nope, I just got this really good recipe from this girl I met," he said and leaned to kiss her cheek awkwardly. "So what kind of omelet do you want?"

"Whatever you want to make me," she said softly. She broke away from him and pulled open the fridge. "Want some OJ or milk?"

"Milk," he said pausing to flash a wide smile he then rambled on, "It does a body good."

"You must be soaking in it then," she said and reached to slap his bottom.

"But of course." He smiled his cheesy smile; eyes sparkling then threw an arm up to show off his muscles.

They sat down at the kitchen table a few minutes later, sharing the omelet while he sipped milk and she drank orange juice and leaned against her arm watching him with a sleepy smile on her face.

"Levi?"

"Hmm?" she said taking a bite of eggs.

"Are you still tired?" He reached out and caressed her cheek with his hand. He'd been worrying about her all week. She had been stressed out over all the wedding stuff, but he had never seen her this tired before, even when she'd been working late nights at Sweet Pea's.

"It's nothing. I just didn't sleep well until you got home," she muttered.

"You sure?"

"Josh, please don't bug me. I'm fine. I'm just feeling a little run down…you know…with all the stress about getting the wedding stuff done."

"As long as you're sure."

"I am." She nodded.

"Good," he said. He leaned and kissed her.

"I'm going to go take a shower," she said.

"You're done already?" he pouted.

"I'm…" she looked at the plate. "I liked the egg, but I need to get in the shower soon because I have things to do today."

"Oh," he said. He looked at her sideways. "You want some company?"

He wondered if she'd brush him off like she'd brushed off most of the breakfast he'd made. He had a feeling that it was more than stress that was getting to her and he hoped that after the wedding that things would get back to normal.

"Sure," she said. She threw him a flirtatious smile and disappeared out of the kitchen.

JC counted to ten before leaving his half-eaten omelet on the table to follow her. He took the stairs by two's and excitedly tried to calm his breathing as he rounded the corner into her room. The thought struck him at that moment that soon this would be their room and their house. He was so caught up in his thoughts that at first he didn't think anything about the silence of the room until he heard Tahoe whine.

"Tahoe, what are you doing in the bathroom?" he called out, "I know you hate to take baths."

JC walked into the bathroom, which had the door halfway, closed to find Leah sitting on the tile floor.

"Levi, what are you doing?" he asked.

"I…"

JC could see the sick look on her face. He took two giant steps and fell to his knees in front of her. "Honey are you ok?" When she didn't answer he put a hand under her chin and raised her face to meet his. "Leah tell me what's wrong."

"I don't feel good," she said

"You just aren't trying to get out of having lunch with my parents are you?" he asked in a joking tone. He didn't like the look on her face and was really concerned that she was REALLY sick.

 


~~THREE~~


"Really Mrs. Chasez, I'm fine," Leah insisted as JC's mother felt her forehead again. She looked over to where JC had perched himself on the edge of the dresser in between doing laps in the room. "Josh. Please tell her that I'm fine. She won't listen to me."

She hated being fussed over and the embarrassment of having her future mother-in-law hovering over her while JC paced really wasn't helping things. She would have pushed the woman's hands away, but after such a short time of knowing her she didn't want to offended her too much, considering that she was going to have her as a relative soon.

She'd phsycially protested when JC had dialed the number to have his parents come over. She'd pushed his hands away from her as he'd helped her up off the floor and had retreated to her room locking herself in for a while when they'd first shown up.

"Call me Mom," his mother said softly. Her smile was geniune and Leah was sure that she really was trying to be helpful. It made her feel even more guilty for not wanting the woman to be there. She had nothing against her personally, but it was hard to deal with all of the wedding things plus dealing with all the family issues that were raising their heads as the wedding date approached with a stranger trying to comfort her.

Leah backed away from her touch. She hated the hurt look that Mrs. Chasez gave her, but she couldn't help it. Since her parents had died, JC and her small group of friends had been the only ones she had been even slightly touchy-feely with and she admitted that even at first she'd had a hard time dealing with JC. She'd had to almost bite her lip a few times to not shrink away from him when he'd reach out to her.

She wanted to throw up. She wasn't at all physically sick, she'd just felt really lightheaded before, but she had thought it had just been stress. Now though her sickness lay in the fact that everyone was fussing over her. The idea of this turning into a nice little family bonding moment brought tears to her eyes.

She looked up in time to see JC staring at her. She couldn't tell if he was angry with her or upset with her. He had a strange look on his face. One she didn't think she'd ever seen before.

"Mom?" JC asked sharply, "What'd you do?"

"Nothing," his mother said stepping back. "I didn't do anything."

"Well why is she crying again?"

"Josh. I'm sitting right here," she said hitting the bedspread with her hands angrily she stared at him. "You CAN ask me."

JC sat down on the edge of the bed next to where she'd been tucked into it. He scooted closer to her so that he had a hand on her thigh and squeezed her leg. "Levi, please tell me what's going on."

Leah turned and looked at his mother for a moment. She didn't mean to be rude, but she wasn't sure that she wanted a perfect stranger to listen to the conversation. She hadn't told anyone about her problems, not even Patty and she intended to keep it that way at least until the wedding was over…if it happened in the first place.

Mrs. Chasez took the hint and excused herself, "We'll be downstairs if you need anything."

JC waited until the door was closed then spoke again. She knew that he was really worried about her when he prompted her again to speak to him. "Tell me what's going on."

Leah avoided the pleading look in his eyes for a moment. She didn't know how to tell him. She knew that he would be disappointed. There was no way around that though. He'd seemed to think that everything was perfect now that they were together and were going to get married, but it seemed as if everything on her end of their relationship was falling apart.

Not only was she still getting the last minute details ready for the wedding, but she'd had to coordinate things for the restaurant for the two weeks that she would be gone on vacation while keeping up appearances for JC's parents and for JC himself.

"Levi, you never cry." He tipped his head sideways and looked at her closely. "What's going on?"

"I don't know if I can do this…" She sighed out the words and held her breath knowing that her explanation was vague to say the least.

"You can tell me anything," he said softly.

She didn't want to say it. She could see the sad look in his eyes and she felt, for the millionth time in the last few weeks that she was letting him down. She almost wanted to chicken out and tell him that she was just stressed out and needed to relax. She could feel herself beginning to panic and she knew if she didn't get this out now she might make it down the isle before she made her final decision on whether or not she should really go through with it.

"No. I mean I don't know if I can do this." She took a breath and braced herself for his reaction. She wasn't sure how he was going to handle this. "I'm not sure if I can marry you."


The words hit him like a punch to the gut. It was so cliché to think that words could knock the breath out of a person, but her words definitely caught him off guard enough to leave him panting for breath. "What?" He was sure that he was visibly shocked from her confession.

Leah started to cry again. "See…this is why."

"What is why?" he asked licking his lips to quench their sudden dryness.

"Every time something happens I feel like I keep letting you down."

JC sat back a little from her. Where was this coming from? He'd never even hinted that he was disappointed in her or that she'd let him down. He would have liked to have had more time with her over the last year, but he understood that she needed to be in Orlando to take care of the restaurant. He had maybe pouted a little bit about her not coming to visit a few times, but he hadn't thought she'd taken that seriously.

"Honey, you've never let me down," he said.

"Yes I have," she said.

"When?" he asked.

"Every time I wouldn't come to visit you…"

Great. She had taken that seriously.

JC took a huge breath and held it for a moment as he scratched his head and watched her stare back at him with these incredibly sad eyes.

"See, even at this minute you're thinking…great I have this psycho fiancé on my hands."

"No Levi" he said firmly. "You're not letting me down. I'm worried about you. I feel bad because I didn't know you felt this way or even thought those things. I know that it may have seemed that I was disappointed about not spending lots of time with you this year…"

"See."

"Wait. Wait a second. Let me finish," he said. He loved that she was so outspoken, but when he was trying to explain something to her he wished that she would shut up and listen.

She nodded, shut her mouth, and sat still.

"I may have been a little disappointed."

He frowned when Leah made a face at him.

"It's only because I love you and I hate being without you."

She went to speak up but he put a finger to her lips. "BUT it's because I love you that I know that you need to be here to spend time at the restaurant. You hired that manager girl, but I know that you like to be there yourself, especially since Patty moved to California. And I know that her leaving was another stress on you."

Leah pushed his hand away. "I wanted to come and visit you, but I…"

"AND I know that you want to have a normal life," he interupted her. He found himself getting a little choked up when he went to continue. It always happened when he had talks like this with his mother, but he hadn't gotten choked up in front of Leah in some time. "That's something that I keep getting in the way of."

"You don't get in the way," she said quickly.

JC smiled. He'd turned the tables enough to get her mind off of her own troubles and have them focus on him for a moment. He didn't like to be the center of their conversations since most of their lives revolved around him, but it seemed like the perfect way to distract her enough so that she would calm down.

"Most guys don't have to fly three hours to get back to town the day before their wedding. This whole thing has been planned by you and I feel bad about that."

"You'll love what I've planned."

"Honey, I'm not worried about it at all. I know that you're going to make it perfect, but I have a little upsetting news of my own. I have to report back to work when the honeymoon is over."

"You said you have a month off!" she protested.

"See that’s what I mean. No one has to plan their wedding around their careers more than we do."

"But you're here."

"Yeah well I have a meeting when we get back so I can set up recording times with the guys, after that I have a meeting once a week to check in with them."

"Josh." She folded her arms across her chest.

His heart broke in two when she began to pout. "See," he said, "I feel like I…" He coughed and prayed that he wouldn't start crying. He hadn't cried in a while and wanted to keep it that way. "I feel like let you…down…every minute…of the day that I'm not with you." He took a deep breath. "That kills me."

"But you have to be away. You and the guys have to tour. It's the way you keep your fans together and make your money."

"Our money," he said firmly.

"I understand that you have to travel and that your trips are long."

"Well then we're even, right?" He asked. "You're still going to marry me right?"

She shook her head no.

"What now?" he asked letting his breath out loudly.

"I think I'm going to let you down big," she said.

"Why's that?" he asked.

"Because I'm pregnant," she said.


~~FOUR~~


JC's eyes almost popped out of his head when she'd finally told him her news. He let out a breath of air that had gotten caught in his throat when she'd made her announcement and backed away from where she was sitting in bed.

"Oh…" he took a deep breath in. "…My…." He let out a breath. "…God!" He was finding it hard to breathe which made him feel a little more than dizzy.

"Joshua, sit down," her firm voice broke through his thoughts and he followed her advice and took a seat at the end of the bed. His head immediately dropped into his hands and he held his head for a moment trying to concentrate enough to get the floor to stop spinning.

He only looked up again at her when he heard her trying not to cry. She was taking deep breaths and covering her face, drawing in breaths of air in quick motions as if she knew that if she let out a breath her tears would start to fall again.

"Levi, please don't cry."

"How can I not cry?" she asked in a whining tone, looking at him with stone cold eyes. The look made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

"Levi, you're making this more complicated than it needs to be."

"I'm making it complicated?" she asked. "I didn't ask to be PREGNANT!"

"Shh," he said at her. "My mom is going to bust through that door if she hears us yelling."

"I knew it," she said and got out of bed. She walked over to the closet and disappeared inside it for a moment.

"You knew what?" he asked watching the deserted doorway.

"I knew that you were going to do this," she said.

"Do what?" he asked, "What did I do in the last thirty seconds that pissed you off?"

"It's the whole thing with your mother," she said. He heard noises inside the closet.

"Leah, what are you doing?" he asked.

"Packing," she said.

"Packing?" he asked. He thought he'd seen her bags already packed for the honeymoon trip and wondered what she was packing. "I thought you already packed for the honeymoon."

"No Joshua, I'm packing for you," she said.

"What?" Her response to his question wasn't the one he'd been expecting at all.

He went to the door of the closet and saw her with his things, throwing them into a bag. "What are you doing?"

"This isn't going to work out," she said, "I think you should go."

"Go?" he asked.

"I want you out of here," she said.

"Leah, we have about three hundred people waiting for us to get married. This is ridiculous."

"IT IS NOT RIDICULOUS!" she said loudly.

"Ok," he said holding up his hands. He glanced at the door to the bedroom and prayed that his mother wouldn't walk back into the room. It was one thing for them to be fighting, but having his mother there would just make things worse.

"Josh I can't do this," she said. She stopped throwing clothes into the bag. "I can't…"

He could tell from the look in her eyes that she was now trying to figure out her next move. He took the opportunity of inactivity to pull her into his arms.

She immediately struggled against his arms.

"Hold still," he said calmly.

"Let me go," she said and tried to wiggle out of his grasp.

He clamped down on her arms and held on tighter. "No. Hold still," he said.

"Please Josh, let me go," she said. Her voice had gotten a lot weaker and he could tell that if he held her long enough she would calm down.

"Hold still Leah or you're going to hurt yourself or the baby," he said.

She wiggled around more. "Like you'd care."

JC's jaw dropped. "And what's that supposed to mean?"

"You weren't exactly pleased with my news."

"I was shocked Leah, there's a difference."

"Well you sure could have fooled me. I thought you were going to pass out a minute ago."

 


 

She watched him closely as he held her against his chest. She finally leaned into him wanting the yelling and everything to stop.

"This would never work Josh," she said into his chest.

"Yes it will," he said and rubbed her back for a moment while they both seemed to have agreed on their temporary truce. "I haven't failed at many things in my life and I'm not going to let this one fail. We've put too much on the line for each other to stop trying now."

His words comforted her, but she still felt like she was treading water in the middle of an ocean of worries.

"Joshua!" His mother's voice came into the room as she let herself in.

JC turned and looked at her. Leah couldn't see his mother's face due to the fact that she was still pressed against his chest, but she must havebeen worried from the look that JC gave her.

"Honey I was going to say that we should get going if we're--" her words trailed off. "Honey, are you two ok?"

"We're fine," Leah said pulling away from JC's hug. She could see that her words and the action of her leaving his arms had confused him. "I should go and get a shower and get ready to go."

His mother nodded and left the room.

"What's that all about?" he asked when his mother was gone.

"You and I need to get a shower and get going." She tried to kick herself into high gear thinking that if they got past this moment in time that everything would eventually work out…like picking up the needle on a record that was skipping. The rest of the record wouldn't be scratched, but they had to get out of the rut before they repeated the mistakes of their past.

"Please tell me that this moodiness has to do with you being pregnant because right now I'm--"

"We have a restaurant of people waiting for us," she said and wiped her face. "We can't be late or someone will think something's wrong." She disappeared into the bathroom.

"Something is wrong," he said.

Leah took the moment to slide out of her clothes. She opened the shower door and arranged the shower head then turned on the water before stepping into the shower. "You coming in here or not?"

"Levi, we have to talk about this more," he said.

Leah stood under the streaming water and kept an ear tuned for the sound of his voice. "So talk."

She could see him strip down through the glass of the door then she saw him pull open the shower door. She watched his face as he stepped inside with her. She'd really confused him now. "First you cry all over me about not having this work then now you seem determined to avoid the subject. What's going on?"

She watched him watch her soak her head under the spray of the shower then she moved around him and grabbed the shampoo off the top of the shower enclosure. "Honey, get wet. We need to get showered and get out of here before your mother comes back again."

It was funny how she wasn't at all shy about being with him in the small shower stall naked. Although most times she would take a minute to appreciate the scene before her, this time she was on a mission and didn't have time to.

"Leah?" He stared at her hard as she began to lather her head with the shampoo.

"Josh, get your head wet." She sounded annoyed with him now. She didn't mean to be, but she knew that if they didn't get in and out of the shower quickly his mother would return and things would go from bad to worse.

It seemed that he finally figured out that there wasn't anything else to do so he stepped under the showerhead and wet his hair. When he stepped away from the water he wiped his face and Leah reached to lather his head with soap.

"What are you doing?" he asked pushing her hands away.

"Josh you said it yourself. We have guests waiting."

"So you're going to marry me now?" he asked.

"Of course," she smiled at him.

"What the hell is going on Leah?" he asked.

"It's simple. Tonight we're going to have dinner with your family and our friends and tell them that we're going to have to set an extra place at the table."


Another place at the table. It sounded nice, but the strange feeling that had been hovering over them for most of their conversation didn't leave as they dressed and he returned to the first floor of the house. His mother gave him many concerned looks as they waited for Leah to come down the stairs and when she did finally get to the first floor she looked completely normal as if there had been no fight between them that morning.

"Honey, did you remember to plug in your cell phone?" she asked.

Josh broke away from the stare he'd been giving her. "No Levi," he said softly then went into the kitchen to get the spare recharged battery.

"Let's go get your sister and brother," Leah said.

He couldn't believe that she was being so calm and collected now. He'd known that she'd done a complete turn around, but the way she spoke of her having a child now was like she was planning to just add another place setting at the table, instead of totally rearranging their lives for the child that would soon be theirs.

He only wished that it would be that simple.

 


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